Communication was already a challenge in the security industry with widespread teams or lone personnel in siloed locations. Now that COVID-19 has virtually eradicated in-person interactions and many team members are only working remotely, it is all the more difficult to keep everyone synced.
The entire face of security communications has changed, escalating the need to find alternate ways to connect with the growing remote workforce. Internal and external communications are merging as security companies struggle to manage disconnected teams.
Remote work now requires mobile communication delivery at an unprecedented level. Security professionals are discovering faster, more effective ways to communicate with simple, plug-and-play digital solutions.
Mobile team communications applications are fast becoming the leading solution across the spectrum, from small businesses who require premise patrolling to large enterprises with multi-layered security systems. App features are more comprehensive than ever with text chats, audio calls, video conferencing, file and screen sharing, discussion threads, forums and more, all combined into one communications hub on a dedicated channel.
Communication platforms can equip both security officers and business owners with video monitoring, camera controls (pan-tilt-zoom), multi-feed displays, video playback, and “snap-and-send” capabilities (video snapshot transmissions)—all from a mobile device. Applications tailored to security services companies provide a feature-rich dashboard with the ability to track guard movements and define “geo-fenced” perimeters that limit the area personnel are allowed to patrol—a function that is particularly important with current social distancing regulations. There are even free apps available that turn a smartphone into a body-worn camera, providing POV video with time, date and location tagging.
However, some security industry professionals have highly specific processes and require more customized communication interfaces. The emergence of no-code/low-code development platforms (LCDP) have made it possible for developers and customers to accelerate delivery of custom applications. Though they can be deployed on virtually any platform, mobile accessibility is a driving factor behind the use of LCDP apps, which allow workers to tap into on-premise or cloud data from a mobile device.
Of course, data security will always be a concern when dealing with sensitive information stored on a variety of different platforms. As more teams work remotely and rely on mobile devices, security risks can be mitigated by the use of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), either as a cloud service (also referred to as PKIaaS), or by building a privately rooted PKI in house. PKIaaS has become more popular as it provides all the same benefits of in-house PKI but, without the cost and intricacy of running the program internally. In either case, PKI secures and verifies the digital identities of every person, application, or machine—allowing organizations secure access to devices and internal communications.
Digital Apps, Networks and Devices
When security supervisors need to transmit important information in real-time, nothing compares to verbal communications, which are now facilitated by live push-to-talk (PTT) voice messaging, either one-to-one with individuals, or one-to-many with groups. Now there are smartphones with programmable PTT buttons that integrate with walkie talkie apps, providing instant voice communication between personnel without risk of cross-talk or eavesdropping, while also reducing the number of devices guards carry and cutting IT costs. Many feature-rich PTT apps also allow users to complete a variety of other security tasks, such as site tours, GPS location tracking and panic buttons that trigger emergency alerts in critical scenarios---all from a cellular device. The widespread adoption of smartphones and PTT applications clearly indicates these are becoming the predominant communications tools for security workforce management.
In the past, traditional private radio and land mobile radio networks often required significant up-front Capital Expenditures (CAPEX) to install base stations, antennas, routers, and the like. Today, the spike in remote workforces is driving explosive growth in push-to-talk over cellular (PoC) for wide-area communications due to the low Operational Expenditure (OPEX) for startup and subscription-based services.
With the press of a PTT button, PoC provides the same capabilities as traditional two-way radio systems and enables instant group calls to multiple users. Because PoC leverages existing LTE cellular and ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks, systems can be deployed more quickly with no infrastructure required. For security companies, this reduces operating expenditures across the board, from equipment to licensing fees.
PoC network services can be located on privately hosted servers using gateway routers to provide connectivity between the LTE network and the PoC server. Another approach is unified communications (UC) platforms, which integrate diverse radio systems with PoC and PTT over Wi-Fi into one centralized ecosystem.
Communication devices are evolving along with applications and networks. Digital Mobile Radios (DMR) with advanced features can now support PoC functions, including instant group calling, GPS location tracking, emergency notifications, and mission-critical PTT (MCPTT.) Purpose-built smartphone devices for professional security communications are compact, rugged, easy-to-operate and connect to the cellular network via SIM cards much like traditional cell phones. Some smartphones are even designed to resemble two-way radios, which helps users make the transition to cellular devices, while also presenting a recognizable image to the general public.
Devices are already available on the market that enable the transmission of mission-critical data to and from personnel in the field including, but not limited to, body-worn cameras, fixed and vehicle-mounted cameras, drones, biometric sensors, facial recognition systems and mobile data terminals. Collectively, the data all of these devices provide can equip security personnel with unprecedented situational awareness.
Remote Security Teams Support
Many team communication applications are compatible with hands-free PTT and PoC accessories, including headsets and Bluetooth adaptors, which allows freedom of movement when patrolling grounds, completing walk-through security checks, and a host of other physical tasks. A single button push connects field personnel with supervisors or with other team members, which is ideal for security companies with vehicle fleets, as well as for those who work in the property management field.
There are a vast array of accessories available that augment audio and voice quality, from discreet surveillance kits for undercover security teams to throat mics and earmuffs for high noise environments like casinos and entertainment venues. However, there are only a few accessory manufacturers who specialize in making affordable professional-grade products that far surpass most low-cost alternatives. Of course, these days hygiene is also a primary concern, which is why more experienced makers offer swappable accessories specifically designed for individual or one-time use.
In today’s COVID world, coordinating remote security teams is the new reality. Security service providers are striving to raise team communications to a higher level, while also reducing expenses and keeping staff safe. They are demanding simpler, more cost effective solutions that are also dependable and backed by strong support to ensure operations run smoothly and teamwork is optimized. Ultimately, this has created a paradigm shift, which is completely redefining the future of security communications.
This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.